The birds are listening, and they’re participating, but it’s not about my playing, it’s about the music we’re sharing. It’s not about performance, but about the discovery of the music. And with a few exceptions, I don’t have to worry about their criticism. I won’t say it doesn’t exist. Every once in a while they let me know when they’ve heard enough. If they don’t get loud, they get silent, or sometimes I just get buzzed by somebody who wants to distract me into another mindset. I think they understand the concept of practicing. At least the male songbirds do. I’ve had zebra finch males who worked for months to perfect their individual songs.
The moment I discovered I’d rather be playing music for birds than doing almost anything else felt like coming home. It was a most glorious feeling, one of those epiphanic moments when you realize you’re truly connected. I was playing for wild birds, which was more rewarding in the sense that they had the option to come and go, so if they decided to hang out and listen or sing along it was extra special. My birds fly around in three rooms when I’m home, but the piano’s pretty loud and so they can’t exactly ignore me, although they sometimes do. Usually it’s for good reason. I’m probably bored with what I’m playing too.
But it amazes me that if it hadn’t been for the birds, I wouldn’t have learned a tenth of the music I studied in the last 11 years. I learned to play Bach’s French Suites, the first three Partitas, the Goldberg Variations. I learned all the Mozart sonatas. That was a great experience. I played some Schumann, which was never, ever on my list before. There was Brahms, and Eric Satie, and probably more. The birds quelled the perfectionist in me, and taught me how to play for my own enjoyment for the first time in my life since well, maybe, when I was two and just checking out the piano. Practicing is not always fun, but when I am finally able to play something well enough to experience what the composer had in mind, it is the most fun on earth. Learning all those Mozart sonatas, for instance, gave me great insight. It was like sitting over his shoulder. What glorious music to touch, feel, hear, play.